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Torgersen answers staff questions

By Netta S. Smith

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 14 - November 30, 1995

Staff senators had an opportunity to question President Paul Torgersen at the November 16 meeting of the Staff Senate.

Torgersen told the senate that he had been to Fredericksburg earlier that day to meet with Sen. John Chichester (BAD '59), who, Torgersen said, "may co-chair the Senate Finance Committee." Later in the day, Torgersen said, he traveled to Richmond, where he met with a group of alumni who "are anxious to work with the legislators" on behalf of the university.

The president said that he has been debating whether or not the university should be more focused, and on ways for Virginia Tech to "think of itself as part of a system of universities." He said that he will meet with the faculty and staff to examine these questions.

Torgersen acknowledged that some people are upset about the decision to merge the College of Education with an existing college, and said that the decision "happened fairly quickly."

"The error I made was in not having time to alert some of the key faculty members in the College of Education before this change was announced," he said.

But, he added, the history behind the decision goes back about two years, when then-Provost Fred Carlisle said that "the college has expanded beyond reasonable bounds, beyond the original intent of the college." At that time, Carlisle mandated a 20-percent cut and said the college should "give serious consideration to being assimilated into another college." Torgersen said that there was "another letter about a year ago raising this question, but the college did not adequately address the proposal."

Torgersen said that the Department of Teaching and Learning is largely undergraduate, and also is a certifying unit. The Department of Higher Education Administration and Policy is "largely Ed.D., such as for school superintendents. About one third of superintendents across Virginia have been certified by this department."

He said he made the decision to merge the College of Education because "we could save the cost associated with running a dean's office," and, perhaps more important, because it "seemed this faculty operated separate from the rest of the university. All of us are concerned with how we teach and how students learn," he said. "We could all profit if Education faculty members are in an existing college, with their expertise available for others to employ."

Torgersen said he discussed the idea with a few people, and that Provost Peggy Meszaros agreed with the idea. The announcement was made when it was, he said, because "we ran out of time. The dean's search committee was meeting last Tuesday afternoon, and we didn't want them to start work to find a dean. So we had to make the move more quickly than I would have liked." The Board of Visitors, which met on November 12 and 13, "endorsed the decision," he added.

The president stressed the fact the "nobody will lose jobs and no students will be affected." Meszaros will work with a committee, which is to come to a decision by mid-January about where to place the departments from the college.

When asked about the loss of identity faculty members and students within the college would experience, Torgersen said "There is some pride associated with being with a college, and some hurt feelings. On the other hand, departments can and do have pride," he said. "It's the change that's hurting."

In response to a question about the fact that the shared governance system did not play a role in the decision-making process, Torgersen said he "would suggest that this is a decision the president and provost can make. To remove an academic unit (and save a considerable amount of money) is something I can do."

He pledged that all employees in the college "will have a job-period," and added that the physical change of closing the Dean's Office and re-locating those people will probably occur in June.

Torgersen was asked whether, in light of a recommendation by the Board of Visitors that faculty members receive 6-percent pay raises, similar raises were planned for classified staff members. "All the Board of Visitors did was endorse the recommendation made by SCHEV," he said. "The bottom line is, what will the governor recommend." He said he was optimistic that the General Assembly would support higher education, but added, "It's a capricious process. I spend about one third of my time working there."

In response to a question about a rumor that there will be another buyout, Torgersen said, "I haven't heard."

In other business, senators heard that the Staff Senate office will be open Mondays and Thursdays from noon-1 p.m. in 323E Burruss.